The French love their coffee, it is true, drunk in the morning with lots of milk, or in tiny cups after meals. But doesn’t the caffeine bother them? Don’t they ever have trouble sleeping? In a word, yes.
In fact, I’ve discovered that if there’s any drink the French are as passionate about as coffee, it’s the tisane (pronounced tee-zahn). What’s a tisane? It’s just another word for herbal tea. But, like so many other things culinary, in France it seems to have a spawned a whole industry of its own.
See this wall at the grocery store? It’s one hundred percent tisane. There are varieties to wake you up, to put you to sleep, to help you lose weight, to improve circulation. There are also simple herbal drafts — both the familiar, like chamomile or mint — and the more unusual like fennel, rosemary, or thyme. No, it’s not a recipe for roast chicken! Apparently rosemary and thyme are good for digestion.
My favorite tisane is verveine (in English, verbena) which makes a soothing tea, kind of like chamomile but more full-bodied. In a true sign that I am becoming an old lady, I’ve started drinking a cup every night before bedtime, while watching TV. Interesting side note from Wikipedia: verbena tea was once used to ward off vampires!
Last night I was in a taxi with a very chatty driver, who lurched between topics almost as abruptly as between lanes. Somehow he landed on the subject of tisanes and before I knew it he was giving me a recipe: snip a few leaves of rosemary, add some grated ginger, steep in hot water and then add a spoonful of honey. Not only is it delicious, it helps maintain sexual function well into old age. You heard it here first.